Wins include best tuner; 'Horse' gets play nod

The 65th annual Tony awards went by the book — “The Book of Mormon,” that is, which nabbed nine awards in a sweep that was largely expected along the Rialto.

Wins for “War Horse” and “Anything Goes” also followed a script that was largely anticipated by those in the industry, while a late addition to the 2010-11 sked, “The Normal Heart,” benefitted from a groundswell of legiter support to win a hat-trick of awards. “Book of Mormon” rode a wave of buzz and rave reviews — not to mention skyrocketing box office — to a mantle full of trophies that included tuner, score (“South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, in collaboration with “Avenue Q” alum Robert Lopez), book (Parker, Lopez and Stone), director (Casey Nicholaw and Parker), featured actress (Nikki M. James), set (Scott Pask), lights (Brian MacDevitt) and sound (Brian Ronan).

The Tonys’ “Mormon” conversion began early with a pair of awards, score and orchestrations (Larry Hochman & Steven Oremus), handed out in the half-hour prior to the telecast and serving to augur the show’s much-expected success on the telecast.

“Come on, we know what the best musical is,” said Chris Rock, presenting the top new tuner award to “Mormon.” “This is such a waste of time. It’s like taking a hooker to dinner.”

“Mormon” not only won the support of legit insiders but also can bank on the ticketbuying fervor of the acolytes “South Park” has accumulated over its 15-year run on Comedy Central. “I really want to thank South Park fans. If it weren’t for you guys, we wouldn’t be here,” said Parker, in winning the helming laurel.

“War Horse,” a puppet-heavy WWI tale told from the perspective of a horse, reps another of the season’s strong B.O. performers, with the Lincoln Center Theater incarnation following the play’s bow in London, where a 2007 National Theater preem led to a still-running West End transfer. Show won in all five of the categories in which it was nommed, including play, direction (Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris), set (Rae Smith), lights (Paule Constable) and sound (Christopher Shutt).

“Anything Goes” notched musical revival, actress (Sutton Foster) and choreography (Kathleen Marshall), with a memorable acceptance speech coming from Rialto fave Foster, who got emotional extolling the virtues of her dresser.

“The Normal Heart” dominated the ceremony in its initial hour, quickly snagging awards for featured actress (Ellen Barkin) and featured actor (John Benjamin Hickey) prior to its play revival win.

Mark Rylance, who picked up a 2008 Tony for “Boeing-Boeing,” made a second comically nonsensical acceptance speech for “Jerusalem” with a discourse on the art of walking through walls. The thesp had wowed the industry this season with two much-praised perfs, starring in both “Jerusalem” and fall offering “La Bete.”

One of the few surprises of the evening came when John Larroquette of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” nabbed the featured actor in a musical honor. “Mormon” thesp Rory O’Malley had largely been expected to be a part of that show’s string of wins.

Two more “Mormon” thesps, lead tuner actor nominees Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells, also missed out on the “Mormon” bounty. That award went to “Catch Me if You Can” star Norbert Leo Butz.

Bigscreen celebs proved less prominent this year than last, when stars including Denzel Washington, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Scarlett Johansson won acting awards. This year, along with Barkin, Oscar winner Frances McDormand took the lead actress in a play Tony for her perf in “Good People.”

Harris, hosting the Tonys for the second time, opened the show with an original song that made cheeky reference to a common refrain this season among legit industry types, who have regularly touted the 2010-11 slate’s creative diversity, especially among a crowded roster of new musicals. With a chorus proclaiming that Broadway is “not just for gays anymore,” the routine trotted out leggy flight attendants from “Catch Me,” nuns from “Sister Act,” squeaky-clean missionaries from “Book of Mormon,” besuited businessmen from “How to Succeed” and sailors from “Anything Goes” as markers of shows that reach beyond traditional theatergoers (all while Harris winkingly acknowledged his own public persona).

The tune wasn’t just a punchline, in that the season boasted an unusually high number of productions that could appeal to that fabled straight-guy demo: “Mormon” with its “South Park”-style comedy, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” with its comicbook origins and pigskin bioplay “Lombardi,” heavily promoted during its run by the NFL.

In the evening’s second original song, Harris enacted a mock-rivalry with three-time host Hugh Jackman in an emcee-off that incorporated snatches of well-known showtunes. At the end of the broadcast, Neil Patrick Harris finished off the ceremony with a swiftly assembled rap written by Lin-Manuel Miranda about the evening’s winners.

As one of the rare moments when Broadway fare can access the broad reach of a national telecast, legit producers select numbers for the kudocast with an eye toward segs that can provide the biggest marketing bang for their buck. Rousing group numbers tend to be a common choice.

Along with the “How to Succeed” segment, which showed off Daniel Radcliffe’s song-and-dance turn in that revival’s well-known tune, “Catch Me if You Can” showcased the G-man terping of song “Don’t Break the Rules,” while “Anything Goes” highlighted the big cast peforming that production’s title tune. “Priscilla Queen of Desert” recruited Paul Shaffer and Martha Wash to accompany “It’s Raining Men,” and a cast dance routine showing off a wide array of the production’s flamboyant costumes.

A couple of the Street’s higher-profile shows, on the other hand, used the Tonycast to play up elements that haven’t gotten as much press attention. Producers of “Book of Mormon” — confident its foul-mouthed, nothing’s-sacred humor is widely recognized thanks to the show’s branding link to “South Park” — highlighted the tuner’s underlying sincerity with lead Andrew Rannell’s largely solo anthem “I Believe.” “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” getting a seemingly inevitable slot after its extended and highly publicized preview travails, opted to forego that show’s much-discussed stuntwork in favor of a quieter duet, performed by Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano, calling attention to the comicbook musical’s central love story.

Due to the confines of the Beacon’s smaller stage footprint and wing space, a number of performance segs proved less complicated in terms of tech and set elements than they had been in prior years.

Plays have been notoriously difficult to showcase during the Tonycast. This year, the task was accomplished with a prerecorded segs of shows introduced by thesps from their respective shows.

Profanity was a recurring hurdle for the telecast, given the fact that one of the play nominees was titled “The Motherfucker with the Hat,” a new play that ended up notching six noms but no wins. Cursing resulted in some of the telecast’s more jarring edits, with quick cuts to wide shots when actors cursed, as in an opening-number reference to “The Motherfucker with the Hat.” An ad-libbed cuss from Brooke Shields resulted in a lightning-speed muting from telecast sound engineers.

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